Frankl and the Development of Logotherapy
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish-Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who lived from 1905-1997. He studied at the University of Vienna, obtaining his medical degree, and later opting to focus on psychiatry and neurology. While Frankl’s individual philosophy on psychotherapy was still yet to develop, he was greatly influenced by the theories of Freud and Adler. During the Second World War, Frankl was imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps, beginning in 1942, until finally being liberated in 1945. While Frankl was a prisoner, he began formulating ideas for his pinnacle book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which describes his development of and the basis for logotherapy. Frankl’s experience as a concentration camp inmate heavily influenced logotherapy. He describes wondering how the average concentration camp inmate survived through such an experience, and used these thoughts and ideas in his work on logotherapy.
What is Logotherapy?
Logotherapy is thought to be the “Third Viennese School” of psychotherapy, coming after Freud and Adler’s psychoanalytic theories. It focuses largely on the individual’s quest for personal meaning in life, and how that meaning can translate into motivation and help people overcome a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression. Frankl believed that the individual’s search for meaning was the single most important aspect of life. Without meaning, life is essentially pointless, bleak and dull. Finding one’s meaning is based on the three basic tenets of logotherapy, namely that:
1. All life has meaning, regardless of how horrible or difficult your own life may seem right now.
2. The main human drive in life is to find meaning.
3. You have the freedom and option to choose to find meaning and to choose how you want to feel about and look at a situation.
While it may appear to have a spiritual basis, Frankl’s philosophy does not advocate one religious belief over another. Rather he feels that your own spirit is the driving force, not a search for God or an external force. Logotherapy acknowledges the uniqueness of each individual.
Logotherapy and Depression
Logotherapy is thought to help depression and other mood disorders through the discovery of your own personal meaning, based on the idea that many people are depressed because they have failed to find their own purpose/drive/meaning, seeing life as essentially pointless and void of joy. Depressed people feel deep despair and hopeless as though life lacks meaning.
The logotherapist works with the client to uncover their personal meaning, providing them with a reason to wake up and get out of bed in the morning and experience the joy of life, instead of succumbing to symptoms of depression such as lethargy, fatigue, low mood and anxiety. Logotherapy differs from other types of psychotherapy because it is not concerned with existence, but assumes as a basic tenet that all individuals have an inherent drive to discover meaning. Even if you have suffered intense grief or pain, you can still persist and find meaning in your life, just as Frankl did during his experience as a concentration camp inmate.
What is Logotherapy’s Benefit for Depression?
When the will to meaning is blocked, various illnesses, such as depression, can develop. Perhaps you’ve experienced a loss or a major disappointment. While it’s normal to experience feelings of grief or frustration, prolonged feelings like these can develop into serious psychiatric disturbances. Although you are an individual with free will and the capacity to choose how to think, feel and react to life, you may feel these abilities are blocked at times, whether through specific life situations or tragedies or medical illness. (In the case of medical illness, Frankl recognized that these illnesses must be treated with regular medical interventions before the logotherapeutic process could begin.) All aspects of an individual’s life are taken into account, including psychological, physical and spiritual dimensions.
Finding meaning is a very personal search, and it’s not something your therapist can outline for you. You must find this meaning yourself. It can be that you decide that specific relationships, or a certain goal or something else are what gives your life true meaning. You must ultimately decide this yourself. Logotherapy uses specific techniques, such as reframing dysfunctional thoughts and attitudes and incorporates the use of humor.
Your therapist will help you along your path by posing specific, thought-provoking questions or philosophies. Logotherapy does not advocate passivity, but rather aims to create a feeling of calm determination. Even if you must suffer, whether due to an incurable illness or injustice, logotherapy seeks to find meaning even in these types of situations, through a type of dignified suffering in which even your own suffering and pain has meaning.
“Man’s Search for Meaning”; Viktor Frankl; 2004
“Comprehensive Handbook of Psychotherapy: Interpersonal”; Robert F. Massey and Sharon Massey; 2002